Tu Delft Researchers Designed Hybrid Energy System For Martian Habitats (Planetary Science / Engineering)

Roland Schmehl and student team designed a hybrid wind-solar energy system to power the construction and subsequent use of a subsurface Mars habitat. Their study recently appeared in Arxiv.

Several space agencies are aiming to send the humans to Mars with the goal to establish a habitat. One of the main problems to overcome is how humans will generate energy for a possible colony on Mars. We all know that generating renewable energy on mars is technologically challenging. Firstly, because compared to Earth, key energy resources such as solar and wind are weak as a result of very low atmospheric pressure and low solar irradiation. Secondly, because of the harsh environmental conditions, the required high degree of automation and the exceptional effort and costs to transport material to the planet. Like on Earth, it is crucial to combine complementary resources for an effective renewable energy solution. So, to fulfill all these requirements, Roland Schmehl and student team designed an energy system for a Mars habitat.

“Our students worked for 10 weeks fulltime on this so-called “Design Synthesis Exercise” which is the Bachelor end project at the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering of TU Delft and presented the result of a design synthesis exercise, a 10 kW microgrid solution, based on a pumping kite power system and photovoltaic solar modules to power the construction as well as the subsequent use of a Mars habitat”

— told Dr. Schmehl, Associate Professor at the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering of TU Delft, working on the emerging technology Airborne Wind Energy.

Their energy system consists of five main components: the power management system, the energy storage system, the central control system and the two energy generation subsystems.

The primary generation subsystem is based on wind energy, using a flying kite to convert the kinetic energy of Martian wind into a resultant aerodynamic force and corresponding tether force, which is further converted by the ground-based reeling mechanism and connected generator into shaft power and electrical power, respectively. The subsystem is equipped with its own control unit and super-capacitor, to balance the energy production and consumption phases of the pumping cycles.

Figure 1: Architecture and interfacing of the entire renewable energy system. Schematic from Corte Vargas et al (2020). © R. Schmehl et al.

While, the secondary generation subsystem uses solar PV technology, with a dual axis-system support system. The subsystem is equipped with dust protection and tilting mechanisms to minimize losses and ensure the best incidence angle of the radiation.

In order to store wind and solar energy, they also designed an energy storage system to which excess energy is charged during harvesting times. The energy storage system includes short-term storage, using lithium-sulfur batteries to cover the nights, and long-term storage, using CO2 compressed into underground cavities, to cover months with lower resource availability.

“Carbon dioxide makes up roughly 95% of the Martian atmosphere and the analysis showed that its use for compressed air energy storage (CAES) was meeting the long-term energy storage requirements of the mission.”

— told Dr. Schmehl.

In addition, the power management system connects the energy harvesting systems and the storage solutions, ensuring reliable electric delivery to the habitat. It makes use of a DC microgrid with underground power cables, to protect against the harsh Martian conditions. Moreover, the central control system manages the communication of all system components, ensuring the proper functioning of all components.

“The combination of all these subsystems results in a design that can reliably produce and distribute enough energy for the Mars habitat, at a total base cost of €8.95 million, excluding transportation. This proves that renewable energy is a feasible option for a Mars mission and that further investigation needs to be done to finalize the design.”

— told Dr. Schmehl

Finally, it has been recommended that, environmental conditions on Mars must be determined accurately and further research must be conducted in order to obtain a more practical expenditure prognosis for the kite and remaining subsystems.

Featured image: Kite power system of TU Delft in operation and simulated pumping cycle (Fechner, 2016). © R. Schmehl et al.

Reference: Lora Ouroumova, Daan Witte, Bart Klootwijk, Esmée Terwindt, Francesca van Marion, Dmitrij Mordasov, Fernando Corte Vargas, Siri Heidweiller, Márton Géczi, Marcel Kempers, Roland Schmehl, “Combined Airborne Wind and Photovoltaic Energy System for Martian Habitats”, Arxiv, pp. 1-14, 2021. https://arxiv.org/abs/2104.09506

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